Secret Rattlesnake Stockings? Plus The Texas “Lynx”

In a secret effort to replenish diminishing timber rattlesnake stocks, government officials have been stocking captive-bred specimens of the timber rattlesnake.

At least that’s the story that has been floating around East Texas for years.

It is unclear as to which agency is responsible but some reports indicate it could be the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service while another rumor has it linked to a clandestine university project.

I say “story” but the truth is I have heard numerous tales of rattlesnake restoration efforts in the Pineywoods of East Texas. One gentleman even told me his uncle’s brother-in-law had some released next to his farm near Crockett. Hundreds of them.

Where did these stories originate?

rattlesnake-1-1.jpg
This photo of an East Texas timber rattler was submitted by Amber Deranger several years ago.

Well, rattlesnakes have technically been released into certain areas in the Pineywoods.

However, scientists did not breed them in captivity and they are not part of some secret restoration effort.

These released rattlesnakes are simply ones that were captured as part of a radio-telemetry study conducted by officials with the U.S. Forest Service. Timber rattlesnake were captured in the wild, fitted with radio transmitters and released back into the wild so researchers could track their movements.

There never has been a timber rattlesnake stocking program in Texas or anywhere else for that matter.

I first wrote on this topic and destroyed the myth of the rattlesnake stocking in 2006 when I spoke to TPWD biologist Ricky Maxey.

He said the rumors have been floating around since the 1990s.

“I used to work in the Big Thicket area out of Beaumont and we used to get questions about rattlesnake stockings frequently. And it seems the rumors are still pretty rampant,” Maxey said.

“Someone could have seen Forest Service officials capturing the snakes or releasing the ones fitted with transmitters and the rumor could have started there. It could be the case of a true story getting less and less truthful as it’s told,” he said.

This story is similar to another albeit slightly less widespread tale of the Texas Parks & Wildlife Department (TPWD) releasing Canada lynx into the Pineywoods region. I first heard of these stockings taking place in the Livingston area but later heard they also occurred near Toledo Bend reservoir and in the Big Thicket National Preserve.

Occasionally people would see one of these “lynx”, which are allegedly much larger than a Texas bobcat.

bobcat3.jpg
The only lynx in Texas is Lynx rufus, the bobcat. (Photo by Chester Moore, Jr.)

The problem is these stories are bogus. Totally bogus.

TPWD or any other agency for that matter have never stocked Canada lynx (Lynx canadensis) into any destination in Texas and for that matter would have no reason to do so. They have never lived in the region and their very close cousin the bobcat (Lynx  rufus) is doing incredibly well here.

Bobcats can vary greatly in size as previously noted. Ear tuft length also varies among individuals. Most bobcats have short but some are comparable to those of their northern cousins.

Spot patterns also vary wildly with some having virtually no spots on the top half and others possessing well-defined spots. A few individuals have a unique pattern traits of spots within spots that look sort of like the rosettes of an ocelot or jaguar.

People seeing this somewhat unusual looking bobcats sometimes associate them with Canada lynx and at some point a stocking legend began. In a way that is a shame because, our very own “lynx” the bobcat, is an amazing cat.

Having these mysteries solved might ruin your favorite local legend but the fact is there really is no mystery. The rattlesnake stocking was not a stocking at all but re-release of a few snakes fitted with transmitters.

And the lynx story is false all the way.

Remember not everything you read on the Internet is true and tales told around the campfire tend to get taller with age.

Hear more details of the “lynx” stocking on this episode of The Wildlife Journalist® mini-podcast.

Chester Moore, Jr.

(To subscribe to this blog enter your email address in the box on the top right of this page. To contact Chester Moore e-mail chester@chestermoore.com.)

Sea Turtle Release Touches Hearts (Video)

Port Aransas, TX—The smiles were even bigger than the waves.

As the white foam of breakers hit the beach, Lauren Scott and Reannah Hollaway were beaming.

The two recent high school graduates are best friends and share an equal love of sea turtles.

Reannah participated in our Wild Wishes® program last April getting to meet an injured Kemp’s Ridley sea turtle and giant river otters at Moody Gardens in Galveston, TX. That facility rolled out the red carpet for her.

Wild Wishes® grants exotic animal encounters for children with terminal illness or loss of parent or sibling.

After her wish, Reannah informed me that her friend Lauren also loved sea turtles and had a dream of releasing one that had been rehabilitated.

As I began working on that project a series of events unfolded that I can only describe as divinely inspired.

The Amos Research Keep (ARK) at Port Aransas offered an opportunity for the girls to tour their facility and release two green sea turtles back into the Gulf. So, on Aug. 10 we paid them a visit.

IMG_3164
ARK’s Alicia Walker who hosted the visit shows the girls an injured baby hawksbill turtle.
IMG_3185
This big turtle was covered with barnacles and getting back a healthy appetite.
IMG_3288
Lauren was happy feeding green sea turtles fresh romaine. Unlike other sea turtles, greens are vegetarians which is they love the seagrass-thick habitat of South Texas.

IMG_3276
After learning much about the ARK’s inspiring work and seeing many sea turtles, the highlight of the day had arrived. It was time for the turtle release.

As I watched the girls put on their latex gloves and move the turtles out toward the water, I saw worries melt away. I saw that hint of anxiety that I have learned to pick up working with children facing loss and serious illnesses disappear. I saw two young girls being young girls and living that rare, surreal dream come true moment.

IMG_3367
You think those girls are happy or what?

When Lauren and Reannah lowered the turtles into the surf and watched them quickly swim away, a tangible feeling of freedom filled the air. It’s the kind of freedom ARK provides many sea turtles and injured shore birds but there was something else.

This event inspired two young ladies facing challenges in life to see that great things can happen-even the very biggest dreams coming true.

I want to thank Alicia and everyone with ARK who went far out of their way to accommodate this wish. And I want to thank everyone who supports the Wild Wishes® program.

You are helping young people in more ways than you know.

Lauren and Reannah will never forget the day they stepped into the blue-green waters of the Gulf of Mexico and set free their favorite animals. And neither will I.

Those two young ladies will for the rest of their lives wonder where those turtles ended up and how their lives turned out. Those are the kind of thoughts that not only bring smiles but inspiration.

There are no guarantees but the turtles got a fighting chance and they got it because people cared.

Listen to the podcast inspired by this story below.

Chester Moore, Jr.

(To subscribe to this blog enter your email address in the box on the top right of this page. To contact Chester Moore e-mail chester@chestermoore.com.)

Car-Sized Giant Catfish Below Dams?

“Did you know there are giant catfish below Toledo Bend dam?”

That was the question posed to me at a speaking engagement.

“And they are so big divers are afraid to go down there and look at the dam. They say they are the size of Volkswagens!”

This story has been told over and over and is considered absolute fact by many. I have heard it about Toledo Bend but also other lakes throughout the American South.

Here are a few points I would like to make about this legend that lives on due to photos circulating social media.

#I have been investigating these stories since 2005 and have never spoken with anyone who has actually seen these giant catfish. It is always their brother-in-laws cousin’s former roommate twice removed or something.

#The largest catfish in North America are the blue and flathead both of which live at Toledo Bend and other reservoirs in the South. They can attain weights of over 130 pounds and I have no doubt there are specimens quite a bit larger. In my opinion this legend began with a diver seeing an extra big catfish in murky water and then the story grew from there. A Volkswagen-sized catfish would weigh closer to a ton. Such fish don’t exist here in the United States.

splash.jpg
The author diving with “Splash” in 2005.

I actually got to dive with the (at the time) world record catfish-nicknamed “Splash”-caught by angler Cody Mullenix on Lake Texoma. She weighed 121. 5 pounds and lived for awhile at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens, TX. I had the incredible opportunity to dive with it to get perspective on what it would be like to encounter a catfish of record proportions underwater.

My conclusion was such a fish seen in murky conditions could easily be construed as “giant”. Divers can exaggerate as much as fishermen.

#If you have a Facebook account or e-mail  address, you have probably seen the photos of anglers in the water with huge  yellow-skinned catfish with a subject line like, “Angler’s Noodle World Record  Flathead” or something like that. Well for starters, “noodling” is the practice of feeling around with your hands and grabbing catfish by the mouth and  wrestling them to shore.

The photos passed around the Internet of anglers with super-sized flatheads are not really flatheads at all. They are Wels catfish from Europe. They look almost exactly like flatheads except for the fins, which grow like a tadpole. And then there is the size. Wels grow up to 10 feet in length and catches of fish over six feet are common. The world record flathead was just over five feet in length.

My wife Lisa and I both caught Wels over seven feet in the Segra River in Spain in 2005 and nearly everyone who sees the photos thinks they are flatheads until we tell them differently.

Listen to hear Chester’s full Wels catfish adventure and more.

chester-wels-1
The author with a huge Wels catfish caught and released in Spain’s Segra River in 2005.

Interestingly the guide on our trip told us that divers in that river work on and inspect the dam in shark cages. The Wels (which can grow to over 10 feet in length) are aggressive enough to attack them. I was a bit skeptical of the attacks but then we saw the massive scar across his back of where a Wels bit him attempting to land it.

The next time you see photos of giant catfish supposedly “noodled” look closely at the fins. It is probably a Wels.

And the next time you hear of giant catfish below the dams, realize there is no way they are the size of an economy car.

Chester Moore, Jr.